Core knowledge translation competencies: a scoping review

Mallidou, A.A., Atherton, P., Chan, L., Frisch, N., Glegg, S. and Scarrow, G. (2018) Core knowledge translation competencies: a scoping review. BMC Health Services Research 18:502  



Background: Knowledge translation (KT) is the broad range of activities aimed at supporting the use of research findings leading to evidence-based practice (EBP) and policy. Recommendations have been made that capacity building efforts be established to support individuals to enact KT. In this study, we summarized existing knowledge on KT competencies to provide a foundation for such capacity building efforts and to inform policy and research. Our research questions were “What are the core KT competencies needed in the health sector?” and “What are the interventions and strategies to teach and reinforce those competencies? 

Methods: We used a scoping review approach and an integrated KT process by involving an Advisory Group of diverse stakeholders. We searched seven health and interdisciplinary electronic databases and grey literature sources for materials published from 2003 to 2017 in English language only. Empirical and theoretical publications in health that examined KT competencies were retrieved, reviewed, and synthesized. 

Results: Overall, 1171 publications were retrieved; 137 were fully reviewed; and 15 empirical and six conceptual academic, and 52 grey literature publications were included and synthesized in this scoping review. From both the academic and grey literature, we categorized 19 KT core competencies into knowledge, skills, or attitudes; and identified commonly used interventions and strategies to enhance KT competencies such as education, organizational support and hands-on training. 

Conclusions: These initial core KT competencies for individuals provide implications for education, policy, knowledge brokering, and future research, and on the need for future evaluation of the KT competencies presented. We also discuss the essential role of organizational support and culture for successful KT activities/practice. 


The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) funds health research in British Columbia, Canada. Not only does MSFHR require KT in each grant application and build capacity for KT but they also contribute to the knowledge base about KT. In this paper they present the literature review that has preceded their recent work on identifying and building KT competencies. 

They identify four primary KT elements: synthesis, dissemination, exchange and application of knowledge. I would add stakeholder engagement to this list of KT elements. Even though the competencies have a strong focus on dissemination and related activities it is important to engage with stakeholders throughout the KT process. This is identified as a competency under 1.2 “Understanding the research process”, and “know how to build relationships with stakeholders” but given the underlying importance of the activity I recommend it be added as a fifth element of KT. 

They also identify that capacity building efforts need to target individuals, teams, organizations and systems. This is very important as most capacity building I see is focused at the level of the individual and (occasionally) teams. If you are focused on building capacity for teams make sure you include research and KT partners in the capacity building. It won’t help if you only build capacity of one half of the research to impact participants. 

What did they do: they identified 1,171 records from academic and grey literature and ultimately included 73 in their scoping review. 

They identified 19 KT competencies grouped into three categories: knowledge, skills, attitudes. 

With the focus on dissemination it is not surprising that dissemination activities appear in multiple places in the competency framework including 

  • Competency 2.3: sharing knowledge 
  • Competency 2.5: disseminating research findings 
  • Competency 2.7: fostering innovation which specific includes social media, another form of dissemination. And while we’re at it this article is from 2018. Social media was already core to our dissemination activities. It is important to include it. It no longer counts as an innovative practice. 
  • Competency 2.8: knowledge brokering including facilitating the flow of knowledge 

There is a curious mention of “role of personality” identifying these as personal characteristics. I would align these with the “attitudes” in the competencies list, #3. Confidence, trustworthy, lifelong commitment to learning might be considered qualities rather than competencies. I differentiate them as follows: competencies (ie skills) are something one can learn.  Qualities (ie characteristics) are something one is borne with, see this earlier article on qualities of knowledge brokers. 

Finally, on the very brief mention of organizational competencies the authors state “To date, little research has been conducted on KT competencies at an organizational level…”. Well MSFHR, please see our recent paper on individual and institutional impact literacy published by Emerald Open Research. This has informed the Institutional Impact Literacy Healthcheck workbook. Published by Emerald Publishing this is a tool focused on institutional competencies to support research impact including KT. 

So, some work is underway addressing the author’s call for action in 2018 (more likely written in 2017!) 


Questions for brokers: 

  • Do you feel there is redundancy in the competencies with respect to dissemination? What would be your approach to addressing this? 
  • If organizational competencies are important how do you go about building capacity in an organization? (hint…the aforementioned Healthcheck workbook is a place to start!). 
  • Check out our work on a competency framework for research impact practitioners (here). 80 competencies in 11 categories. Compare and contrast these two competency frameworks. 

And don’t forget to check out the MSFHR new KT Pathways webpage for 9 pages of resources cutting across many aspects of KT. Likely more resources there than you have ever seen in one place. 


Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series as a way to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments